THUNDER BAY - A youth charged in connection to threats against Hammarskjold High School throughout late 2018 and early 2019, which resulted in numerous disruptions to the school year and heavy police responses, has been sentenced after pleading guilty to one count of public mischief.
In a Thunder Bay Courtroom on Thursday, Justice Danalyn MacKinnon sentenced the youth, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, to 12 months of probation.
Throughout the academic year in 2018/2019, Hammarskjold High School received 14 anonymous threats through Crime Stoppers, which resulted in the school being closed for 12 days. The threats involved shootings, suspicious packages, or bombs.
Following a lengthy investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service, the youth, who was 14-years-old at the time, as well as Emilie Jade Pakrashi, 18 at the time, were arrested in April 2019.
The youth was initially charged with four counts each of public mischief and mischief endangering life. On Thursday, the youth pleaded guilty to one count of public mischief and all other charges were withdrawn by the Crown.
Prior to sentencing, the Crown shared victim impact statements from school officials who spoke about the toll the repeated threats had on students and staff, which included anxiety and emotional stress that manifested inside the school and at home.
There was also a significant financial cost associated with the threats, with the school reporting costs of more than $82,000 and the Thunder Bay Police Service putting the cost of responding to and investigating the threats at more than $200,000.
Justice MacKinnon said she agreed with the joint submission of a 12-month probation period agreed upon by the Crown and defence attorney George Joseph who was representing the youth.
But Justice MacKinnon did say that the actions of the youth have had a profound impact on not only the school community, but the community as a whole.
“The actions that you took, these threats to the school, the most horrible part of that I have to consider as an aggravating factor, is these threats create fear in other people, whether it’s administration, teachers, families, or students going to school there,” she said.
“Every time a threat was made, people could imagine and see the worst-case scenario of being killed by someone in a school. It’s not like it never happened. These threats created very real pictures in people’s minds and very real fears.”
Justice MacKinnon added that by reading the victim impact statements, it becomes clear that some individuals affected by the threats may never recover.
“The threats caused a lot of disruption in people’s education. Particularly for teenagers and the skills they need in order to be good students in the future, learning how to manage their own time, how to concentrate, how to get their assignments done. A lot of that was broken by the constant removal of students from school,” she said.
Another aggravating factor Justice MacKinnon referred to was the fact the threats were a repeated action that must have taken some planning.
When given the opportunity to address the court, the youth expressed regret and apologized for any harm the threats caused to students and staff.
“I’m using this as a learning opportunity for me about myself and taking action on what could have caused this, and I am working on my personal growth,” the youth said.
“I am very grateful for all the support I have received through my family, professionals, and the justice system. I am looking forward to moving past this point in my life.”
Justice MacKinnon said she was pleased to hear the youth has been able to continue and pursue future education opportunities, as well as abiding by all terms and conditions of the release order.
“I was extremely pleased to hear you are doing community service hours to try to put yourself back in the right position with the community,” she said.
“In all of the circumstances, I will agree with the joint submissions, which is unusual in these circumstances, but it is because of all of the things you have done. You are part of the community and we look forward to you being part of the community.”
Pakrashi is still facing charges of public mischief and mischief to property in connection to the threats made against Hammarskjold High School. She is expected to make her next court appearance in August.